On the score sheet it will go down as a third-round victory in the U.S. Open.
But on the court at Ashe Stadium and the massive stands that surround it, this match felt more like a final. Victoria Azarenka, twice a finalist at the Open, and Angelique Kerber, the Open's No. 11 seed, duked it out in championship style Saturday, putting on a display of electrifying shotmaking and heart-pounding determination that brought the crowd to its feet, its roar magnified by the new roof structure.
The score was 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. But the numbers that stand out are these: Azarenka 51 winners, Kerber 46.
Azarenka has missed a lot of time and had to pull out of tournaments the last two seasons because of injuries. Saturday's match put her back exactly where she wants to be -- at Ashe Stadium and battling for survival.
"Probably the most you can miss when you're an athlete . . . [is] that intensity, that feeling of battle, you know, heat of the moment. Personally, it's what I live for."
The match breathed life into the big arena that sometimes swallows up the competitors with the scale of its structure and the social necessities of the New York scene -- and be seen.
"Every moment was really intense and tough," Azarenka said. "She was playing incredible. She was pushing me. I was pushing her. From both sides it was head to head. It was amazing."
"I think we both show very good tennis today," said Kerber, who fought off five match points in the ninth game of the third set. "Of course I am a little bit sad in the end, but it was for sure one of the best women's matches here so far. I am happy about my performance. The most important thing for me is that I did everything today, I played good tennis from the beginning . . . She played amazing in the important moments."
She is twice an Australian Open champion, but Azarenka has a special affinity with the Open and Ashe Stadium.
"I don't ever want to take it for granted that I go to Arthur Ashe Stadium . . .It's just the feeling of competition, making yourself better, to improve, really hustle, battle. Whatever it takes, it's my home."
Azarenka will next play Varvara Lepchenko, Uzbekistan born but now an American citizen. Lepchenko defeated Mona Barthel, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
In other matches, 2011 champion Samantha Stosur overcame the cagey Sara Errani for a 7-5, 2-6, 6-1 win that will put her up against Flavia Pennetta, a 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 winner over Petra Cetkovska, who had upset Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.
"Sara is a tricky opponent. I lost the last two times we played," Stosur said. "I kind of lost my way in the second set and she kind of got control of the match. For the changeover for the third set, I sat there and told myself to calm down . . . and focus on my service games."
In the night match on Ashe, No. 2 seed Simona Halep eliminated American Shelby Rogers, 6-2, 6-3.